I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, Ca. in 1964 and grew up in the city made famous by Johnny Carson when he hosted the Tonight show long before Jay Leno. I had the opportunity to meet Johnny Carson along the beach, near his home in Malibu many times in my life and always found him to be a cheerful man -he'll be greatly missed.
All my life, I've known that my hometown -Burbank had haunted houses too. My home was off of Hollywood Way which is one of the longest boulevards in Los Angeles stretching from the top of the hills in Sun Valley all the way down to Gate 4 of Warner Brothers Studios.
Our family house was between the Golden State (5) Freeway and the railroad tracks about a mile north of the Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena Airport. Our street had 4 haunted houses that we knew of and there seemed to be two more behind our street on Hollywood Way, too. Is this the reason I'm so psychic today? Perhaps so...Many psychics through the years told me I was born to investigate haunted sites and the fact that I lived among so many of them seemed to prove this to me.
When I was a child, I remember an elderly neighbor telling me the story of a ghostly church. It seems that back in the 1940's, the church caught fire. Neighbors heard the sounds of the flames crackling and of a woman screaming. The fire department was called, yet when they arrived they found the strangest thing.
There were absolutely no signs of any fire. Nor could they find smoke, burned wood or broken windows. The entire neighborhood was just as stunned with the occurrence as were the firemen and they thought someone had played a trick on them.
One of the oldest houses in the area was still standing until about 10 years ago when the property was sold and the new owner decided to demolish the little house and build a more modern structure in its place. However, when he started to tear down the small craftsman style bungalow, he saw the faces of an old man and woman looking at him shaking their fingers at him. The new neighbor was so stunned that he stopped demolition and began building the house from behind the original one thinking that once the new structure was finished, he would simply have it torn down.
Nothing but problems surrounded the new owner until he finally filed for bankruptcy and the construction was halted. The property sat still and untouched for several years until a young family bought it. The new owners had small children and the spirits seemed happy that the little house they had built with their own hands over 100 years ago. The house they raised their children and grandchildren in and where they enjoyed their lives. The yard that hid the neighborhood children was finally going to be occupied by someone like them who would love the land and start new traditions.
Everyone in our old neighborhood believed that the spirits of the original owners were able to rest and make a smooth and happy transition into a happier place.
This is where my early beliefs began to form in the spirit world.
Villa Cabrini Academy (Woodbury College)- Burbank, California
Every city seems to have its share of haunted places, but how many cities have haunted schools? Burbank has several but here is one of my favorite ghost stories which will appear in my book Haunted Houses of Los Angeles.
Mother Cabrini was a tiny Italian born native who nearly succumbed to T.B. when she was a child. She was raised by loving parents who read to their children from the bible every night and who instructed their children to lend a hand to anyone in need. When she became a young adult, little Francesca Cabrini knew that she wanted to share her life with others by becoming a nun. She entered the convent at the age of 15 . She was soon instructed to go to America and form orphanages to the millions of Italian immigrant children. She arrived in New York Harbor in 1889 and by 1905, Mother Cabrini had established more than a dozen Catholic Orphanages and schools. ( Nuns are called Mother in Europe). She came to Los Angeles on several occasions and befriended many patrons who believed in her cause.
She was able to purchase a large parcel of land bordering Los Angeles and Burbank to build yet one more orphanage and school. The buildings were constructed of red brick from the clay soil on the property and simple quarters were built for the nuns to live in behind the school, chapel and gymnasium buildings that faced Glenoaks Blvd.
Mother Cabrini longed for a private place to pray and several immigrants helped her build a one room chapel on top of a small hill overlooking the school grounds. One tiny stained glass window was inserted, one kneeler, a wooden altar, crucifix and two candles. This was Mother Cabrini's favorite place to get away from the hectic life down below.
We used to be able to see that little white chapel from our kitchen window and every year there was a pilgrimage from below on Glenoaks Blvd.up through the Olive groves and onward towards the chapel. These started in the late 1950's and lasted well into the 1980's and were very well attended. Many years later, the nuns could no longer afford to pay the enormous property taxes nor take care of the dilapidating buildings so they sold the property to Lutheran High School....
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my brother John, 11 months my senior and I often ride our bikes to the old campus that sat deserted along Glenoaks Blvd. Our father loved olives cured in the Lebanese tradition and our mother learned how to prepare them for him and so sent John and I to the olive groves she remembered when she attended highschool there in the 1950's to pick olives. I remember hearing her saying there was no reason the olives should go unpicked and that Mother Cabrini would love to know that someone still cared about the trees she planted in her life. You see, my mother had a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini and to hear my mom talk about the campus gave me goosebumps as though I needed to care for it as well. When we drove by the wrought iron gates she'd have tears in her eyes and we could always feel that.
We both took paper sacks ( they didn't have plastic shopping bags in those days) with us to hold the olives that clung to the branches of the creepy looking old trees.
On this particular warm spring day we decided to ride our bikes up into the hills and near the desolate little chapel to have a look around and to pop wheelies in the dirt. My brother was always adventurous and loved to explore new territory whenever possible. We stopped near the chainlink fence that surrounded the chapel and noticed an opening where we could crawl in. My brother went in first and as little brothers do, I followed him. We tried to peek into the window, but it was too high then we went around to the front where the door was and saw a large chain with a padlock on it. John tried to giggle the lock as Sherlock Holmes would in a movie, but it didn't open. Meanwhile I saw some old wooden crates and decided to stack them up along the wall to peek into the window. Little did I know that my brother left me there having lost interest in the dilapidated hundred year old building. probably thought I went back down the hill to continue to gather olives for our mom or that just went home on my own.
Our house was only a few blocks away and even though we had to ride under the freeway overpass, across two large busy streets, adventurous kids as us weren't afraid. With much gusto we rode anywhere we desired. Our parents knew where we were and I'm sure if we didn't show up in a couple of hours they'd come looking for us. Life in Sun Valley / Burbank was much safer in those days.
Anyway, I still couldn't see inside the chapel very well and decided to leave when I started to hear this soft voice near me. It was like chanting or praying. Then I noticed a strange smell like burning wood. I knew that the little chapel had survived many hillside fires through the years and was worried that it might be on fire so I threw my bike down to the ground and ran back towards the front of the chapel. This time, the lock was swinging from the chain and the door was open. My brother was nowhere to be found and I knew I was alone up there. But I decided to look inside and was astonished to see a gorgeous painted mural of God sitting amongst billowy clouds, angels surrounded him and kneeling before him was a nun dressed in a black habit. But below that two tall candles were lit and I saw a nun wearing a black habit kneeling down in front of the tiny altar.
She turned around towards me as I started to scream in terror as I was so startled because just seconds before there was no one else around and now I was looking into this old building. She put her index finger up towards her closed lips as if to shush me and motioned for me to come and be near her. She directed me towards the kneeler.with her hand motioning me to come and pray with her. I could make out her words "Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee."
To read more about this ghostly encounter, watch for my upcoming books Haunted Houses of Los Angeles, Modern Saints and Haunted Houses of Hollywood ( Haunted Movie Locations chapter)